HT buy a letterpress.
October 16, 2006 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I think I'd like to buy a letterpress, but I know nothing about them. Please help.

I'm thinking of getting someone a letterpress as a present. I'm not sure that they've ever used one, and I know I haven't. I'd like to get some sense of how difficult they are to work, what the learning curve is like, price ranges, resources on how to learn more...the whole schmeer, really. The person I'm thinking of this for has done a lot of book making, and that's what I imagine her using it for, but I'd be interested in using it for some pamphletty projects.

(I've poked around Briar Press, but I'm interested in the personal info that AskMe can provide so well.)
posted by OmieWise to Technology (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You can email me and I can suggest several ways to do this.

But to summarize here:

the best press to learn on, if you don't have the room/money/skill for a Vandercook, is a Chandler & Price Pilot press. Weighs under 200 lbs, will sit on a workbench or very sturdy worktable, is tremendously easy to operate and you can teach yourself the maintenance quite easily. There are also plenty of resources online, in terms of learning use. I owned one for many years and used it quite a bit but upgraded to a Vandercook SP15, which you need a concrete-floored room or workshop for.

The Pilots are hard to find but I might be able to help you.

Also you don't need a large collection of metal type, although it's certainly nice to have a good range of metal and wood. I do most of my typesetting digitally and then have magnesium, zinc or photopolymer plates made & mounted type high.

email is typographica at gmail dot com, aim is letterpress.
posted by luriete at 10:53 AM on October 16, 2006

see also
posted by matteo at 11:05 AM on October 16, 2006

Craft Magazine's blog recently featured a link to this page about buying a letterpress.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:08 PM on October 16, 2006

Briar Press is an excellent resource. Be warned that with the growing popularity of letterpress, the Classifieds over there have gotten really competitive. I check them occasionally and happened to see that someone in the town I work was clearing some old type out of a basement and needed to get rid of it. I called him up, went over to check the stuff out, and bought what he had. It was some dusty old ATF Caslon and some other stuff -- not junk at all, but certainly not hugely desirable. Anyway, he said he'd gotten 50 emails in the half day since the ad had been posted. Some guy wanted him to ship the stuff to Germany. Baffling. While there's not an endless supply of letterpress equipment, I think there's a sense of false scarcity because the only places you can find stuff for sale online are eBay, Briar Press, and to a lesser degree NA Graphics, American Printing Equipment & Supply, Don Black, etc.

Anyway, tabletop presses are certainly pretty sought after these days. Everyone seems to find this excellent Intro to Letterpress pretty early on which has exacerbated the specific desire for the C&P Pilot above all else. That means that they command some pretty hefty prices these days, and you might not have much luck unless you're willing to pay $500+ (and then have to spring for some new rollers).

You should note what luriete said about the Pilot -- a great press, and light (under 200 pounds!). I have a more modern Pilot clone cast out of aluminum and it still weighs 125 pounds. My Poco 0 proof press -- another light tabletop press -- weighs in at 210 pounds. When you add in all the other stuff (type, cases, composing sticks, furniture, leading, spacing, quoins, ink, brayers, cleaning stuff, et cetera atque cetera, not to mention all of the other stuff that you'll inevitably find you have to have -- corner rounder, hell yes!), it amounts to quite a hobby. My whole third floor is packed with stuff and every effort to contain the mess seems to lead to further letterpress creep.

If you don't want to pick up stuff piecemeal, but would rather have the benefit of going to a "store," I'd recommend John Barrett's Letterpress Things in Chicopee, MA. He's open every other weekend for a day, and while I've never been, I hear it's fantastic. Rumor has it that he always has a tabletop press or two and has starter packs of the other stuff that you need. Might be worth the road trip. Call ahead, etc.

If you'd like to see what you're getting into beforehand, Liber Apertus Press has recently re-issued the long out of print General Printing, which I think is the best intro book.

Anyway, I am by no means an expert and defer to all those with inkier hands.
posted by MarkAnd at 3:39 PM on October 16, 2006

If you're uncertain about whether or not your friend has used a letterpress before, why not give her a gift certificate that she can redeem to take workshops or courses? You don't always have to be a student to enroll, and getting hands-on experience may help her narrow down her interests. I know that there are programs running in many larger cities, so a little searching might turn up something in her area.
posted by metabrilliant at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2006

metabrilliant, excellent idea. Yes, classes at your local Center for the Book - maybe an intro to letterpress, makeready and a typesetting primer would be great. i took a dozen workshops (after a couple years in school studying printing and typesetting) before i bought my first press, a crappy little Kelsey (stay away!). I'm very glad I did.
posted by luriete at 10:34 PM on October 16, 2006

Briar Press is an online resource for letterpress enthusiasts. They have classifieds as well as a directory where you can find letterpress-oriented people and places in your area. There are also discussion boards and a glossary.

I [heart] letterpress
posted by nadise at 5:51 AM on October 17, 2006

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